Metrolinx Electrification Study Terms of Reference

Metrolinx will seek a consultant to undertake a system-wide study of GO electrification with the intent of completing a report by December 2010.  A Request for Proposals (RFP) will be issued with the intention of award in November, and commencement of work in December 2009.  This is an aggressive timeframe for a project of this scope.

The proposed Terms of Reference (ToR) for this study are now available online.  They will be discussed at a meeting of the Metrolinx Board on Tuesday, October 20 at 11:45 am.  If approved, they will form the basis for the RFP.

My comments about the ToR were added here at about 6:30 pm on October 15.

Overall, the Terms of Reference are thorough and address many of the issues raised by the community.  Indeed, it is odd that Metrolinx was so defensive about its Georgetown South EA and associated claims regarding emissions considering the breadth of issues that will face the electrification study.

[Note that some remarks here duplicate replies in the comments thread which were posted before I updated the main article.]

The document linked here includes a covering report and the recommendations of the Community Advisory Committee created to advise Metrolinx on the ToR.  That Committee received input from, among other places, a “stakeholders meeting” in which I participated.  Some, but not all, of the issues raised by participants at that meeting have found their way into the ToR, or were already present.

I cannot help being amused (ROTFLMAO), but also dismayed by the following comment:

The GO System Electrification Study is a critical next step in the implementation of the Metrolinx regional transportation plan. It is a timely and important step in advancing the expansion of the GTHA regional transit network. In the continuing Metrolinx tradition that values community and stakeholder input, the Community Advisory Committee enhanced and enriched the quality of the work.  [Page 3]

There are a few community groups who would beg to differ with the claim that Metrolinx has a tradition of valuing community input.  This insults the many people who worked to raise important issues on the Georgetown South study, but for their pains were dismissed as NIMBYs while Metrolinx spun the issues to favour its own position.  Metrolinx is better known for secrecy and isolation than for community involvement.

The ToR are quite clear in requiring input from a broad range of interested and affected parties, and this will be a welcome change if there is no attempt to manage responses to fit a pre-determined conclusion.

A few broad issues are worth mentioning before I review specific sections of the proposal.

  • The study will review diesel and electric options, as well as two as yet unnamed alternative technologies.  Such alternatives have to be possible, realistic and viable, although how a study ending in 2010 would establish that capability for, say, a decade in the future is beyond me.  The last thing we need is another proposal based on a technology that’s just out of reach, or one where the GTA would become the guinea pig to demonstrate a new system. 
  • The distinction between the Union-Pearson Rail Link (UPRL) and Metrolinx/GO is becoming ever more difficult to discern.  For all practical purposes this service is being designed by GO, its infrastructure is built and paid for by GO, and all of the legal processes including Environmental Assessments are handled by GO.  There is little or no public participation by the so-called private partner, SNC-Lavalin, and recent press reports confirmed that a contract does not yet exist with that partner.  Given the level of public investment and involvement, the time is long past that SNC-Lavalin should abandon this scheme so that it can be properly integrated with GO’s plans and operations.
  • The methodology for evaluating environmental effects is much changed from the system used in the Metrolinx EA.  Rather than considering the airshed as a whole and trading off alleged reductions in pollution on the 401 for increases in Parkdale, the study must look at local effects related to distance from the rail corridor.  Of course, when the alternatives under comparison are trains-vs-trains, the concept of displaced trips fades in importance except for situations where technology “A” can carry and attract more riders than technology “B”.

Comments below are keyed to specific numbered sections within the ToR which form Appendix A of the linked document.

1.3 Relevant Previous Studies

Previous studies released by Metrolinx have provided much fodder for the “how much will electrification cost” debate.  Here, they are dismissed with the comment:

These studies, however, did not take into account the scope of this Study and did not provide for impacts on Union Station, joint use corridors, etc.

The technical studies were prepared as background information for GO and the recommendations and costs identified in the studies were established in the context of the economic climate, technology and public priorities relevant at the time the studies were commissioned. 

In other words, GO did a bunch of studies, but we really should ignore them because they’re not relevant.  Sorry, Metrolinx, that won’t wash and at a minimum the public is owed an explanation of why past studies were so inadequate and why their findings, some of which informed a Metrolinx report published in 2009, should be ignored.

With respect to Union Station, one cost, that of revising the train shed roof for overhead clearance, is included in work to be undertaken by GO in the near future as part of the Revitalization project.  Complete replacement of signalling systems at Union is already in progress, and I can only hope that GO has specified that the new systems can tolerate electric operation and close headways.

GO has often cited Union Station work as a major cost impediment to electrification without acknowledging that some provisions have been made in work already in the pipeline.  The study needs to distinguish between net new costs and the generic costs of electrification.

1.6 Metrolinx Project Management

Metrolinx will provide the Consultant with travel demand forecasts and ridership numbers – based on the Regional Transportation Plan developed by Metrolinx – to be used in the Study. The Consultant may refine these forecasts as necessary to incorporate the additional considerations of the Study.

The scale of projected demand on the GO network is intimately linked to information in the Regional Transportation Plan, also known as “The Big Move”.  Some agencies, notably the City of Toronto’s Planning Department , take issue with these projections, but even allowing for this, the numbers are well above current-day levels.

If Metrolinx refines its projections, this revised information should be posted online so that everyone knows what the new targets for service are, and what might have produced any changes.  This has implications beyond the electrification study for projects such as Transit City as well as the various alternatives to serving the Don Valley corridor to Richmond Hill.

2.4 Overview of GO’s Commuter Rail System

The capacity of Union Station is a major issue for growth of the GO rail network.

Located in downtown Toronto, Union Station is the hub of GO’s commuter rail system and is also a primary hub for VIA Rail. The two organizations share facilities at Union Station. Union Station is also used by other inter and intra-city operators such as Ontario Northland and the TTC subway system. All rail lines and 96% of train ridership is either to or from Union Station. The varying and unique operating and service demands of these users, combined with rapid demand growth and the historic nature of Union Station, have constrained GO’s ability to expand rail, bus and customer service capacity at Union Station. Work is currently underway to revitalize Union Station, including improvements to the train shed roof, stair and elevator access; and track and signal improvements. GO and the City of Toronto are the primary sponsors undertaking the major improvement work on the concourse levels.

Union Station is the hub of regional transit in the GTHA and is where most rail and bus service for the GTHA converge. The planned regional transit network for the next 25 years, as outlined in the Big Move and the GO2020 strategic plan, will require that Union Station’s capacity be almost quadrupled from current levels. Consideration of the impacts that the various technology choices will have on Union Station will be a key factor into this Study. GO is currently in the process of engaging a consultant to determine options to double Union Station’s capacity over the next 10 years. A second related study is also being commissioned to address the need to quadruple capacity at Union Station by 2031 as identified in The Big Move.

GO and the City of Toronto are also currently developing plans for revitalization at Union Station. It is anticipated that these plans will be completed by 2015.

In correspondence with the Project Director of the electrification study today, it was clarified that the references to doubling and quadrupling the capacity of Union Station refer to its ability to handle train movements.  The joint City/GO work for the revitalization project already projects a doubling of the station’s passenger handling capacity.

Information about other aspects of GO’s operations including plans for expanded infrastructure will be included in the full RFP.

3.2.1 Analysis of Technologies

The study is to review non-traditional railway technologies:

In addition, the Consultant will also assess the feasibility and staging of each technology using both FRA compliant and non-compliant vehicles. In assessing the feasibility and staging the Consultant must also consider the use of dedicated tracks and or dedicated Rights of Way (RoW) and their impacts on the technologies under study.

“FRA” refers to the United States Federal Railroad Administration which sets rules for vehicle strengths to ensure that any operation on rail corridors can survive, within limits, the effects of a collision or other accident.  If lightweight and heavyweight equipment operates in the same corridor, the lightweight equipment (typically passenger cars) would not be able to withstand impacts from the heavier equipment.

This issue has come up in various LRT proposals as well as schemes to operate railway vehicles based on the less stringent European standard.  Solutions to the problem include both physical separation (an independent right-of-way for the lighter vehicles) and temporal separation (freight operations at specific hours, usually overnight, when passenger trains do not operate).

Realistically, this is only applicable to a service such as the UPRL which is comparatively short and where the right-of-way might accommodate a dedicated set of tracks.  Reaching further out on the rail network brings more contact with freight operations and constrained rights-of-way.

3.2.2 Environmental and Health Impacts

Any technology is to be evaluated on a “net gain” basis in the sense that some areas may experience poorer conditions as a result of the technology, and others may see better, but on balance there is an improvement.

Offsetting this, however, is an important caveat:

The analysis should consider the magnitude of the human health impacts and exposure levels as a function of proximity to a corridor or corridors, including the social and economic impacts (such as the cost impact to Ontario’s health care system), on system workers, riders, local and regional residents and governments. The Consultant is to identify any groups that are particularly susceptible to these exposures and assess the order of magnitude of the impact of the technology(ies) on these groups.

This guards against proposals that would claim to divert thousands of cars from the highway system (leaving aside the question of whether the resulting capacity would backfill) only to add large numbers of trains, particularly during peak periods, to the rail corridors.  Averages across the GTA are meaningless if local emissions along rail corridors are dangerous.  (That approach is rather like saying that, on average, it is safe to stand on a tidal flat all day long.)

3.2.3 Community and Land Use Impacts

A subtle but important aspect of the ToR lies in this sentence:

An analysis and assessment of what the social behavioural impacts have been of well established systems in other jurisdictions, including, but not limited to, the correlation between the use of technology alternatives and traveler behaviour with respect to commuter rail or other forms of public transit.

This recognizes that different technologies, and the service qualities which they might bring, can have different effects in the communities they serve.  Effects could include:

  • Better acceleration allows more frequent stops while keeping long-haul travel times acceptable.  This could bring more service within an attractive distance of residential communities.
  • Reduced noise and emissions would allow more service to operate in a corridor relatively close to surrounding land uses such as residences and schools.

3.2.6 Risk Analysis

The study will review the risks inherent in any technology including existing or pending legislative issues, staging problems for construction and implementation, and longer-term effects of climate change, energy availability and population growth.

This is an important part of the study because, traditionally, transit proponents who advocate recognition of future environmental and energy market problems are given little notice.  If the study produces a robust evaluation of these factors, including a sensitivity analysis of alternative scenarios, it will be an important contribution to transit and environmental advocacy in general.  This would be a major change for Metrolinx.

3.3 Assessment of Net Impacts

One issue missing from the overall framework is the question of local transit service to feed a much-enhanced GO rail operation.  If there are major differences in the possible service levels, this will affect the quantity and quality of local service needed.

For most if not all GO corridors, parking is not a viable solution to this problem at the demand levels projected.  Moreover, there will be considerable reverse peak commuting into the 905, and such riders must have good local transit service between the GO stations and the concentrations (such as they are) of work sites in the 905.

The cost of improving local transit is an important, but usually overlooked, part of Metrolinx projections.

3.4 Implementation Scenarios

The study will examine, at a minimum, three scenarios:

  • Partial conversion to a technology other than diesel
  • Full conversion from diesel over an extended period (10-20 years)
  • Conversion to multiple technologies over an extended period

Depending on which, if any, “alternative technologies” pass the study’s viability filter, the third bullet may drop out of consideration.

3.5 Consultation Requirements

This section requires the study to include substantial involvement by many types of affected and interested parties.  This will be important not just to make we who are “on the outside” feel wanted, but to give a window into the study’s progress and the options it considers and rejects.  This is far better than waiting impatiently for a final report in late 2010, and being told there is no opportunity for comment or amendment.

This study is vital to the future of commuter rail service in the GTA, and we can’t afford to have “results” than strain credibility in the manner of the Georgetown South EA.  Vastly increased transit service is needed region-wide, and it must be welcomed wherever it happens.  A good, open study can support that goal.

18 thoughts on “Metrolinx Electrification Study Terms of Reference

  1. A few points:
    * page 14: “… the Lakeshore GO rail corridor and Toronto’s Bloor-Danforth subway being the only major east-west high-order transit options.”
    So the Milton line runs north-south now?

    * Section 2.3.3 heading: “GO (formerly GO Transit): a division of Metrolinx”
    It would appear that the name of GO Transit is no more… a shame, because it is a well-known brand, with much history behind. Calling it “a division of Metrolinx” just sounds silly.

    * No-where does it ask talk about possible ridership impacts of different technologies. If a given technology is faster than the current trains, it will attract more riders, and thus increase revenue.


  2. Here are the things that I found interesting:

    2.4 Current System

    Note the Lakeshore West map has GO trains to Niagara Falls! Are they trying to tell us something or did they grab the map from this summer’s service?

    Steve: Looks like the summer map as it does not include the service to Kitchener and Cambridge that begins in November.

    3.2.1 Table 3

    Electric Technologies:

    The consultant must study current and future catenary based electric technologies such as electric locomotives, Electric Multiple Unit’s (EMU’s) and dual mode locomotives.

    Alternate Technologies

    The alternate technology must be commercially available within the short to medium term. The consultant is to propose and study up to two alternative technologies. The study must be both system wide and corridor by corridor including the Union-Pearson Air Rail Link. [Perhaps Metrolinx doesn’t view UPRL as a future separate company or maybe they did not get the memo from the minister.]

    Steve: Increasingly, Metrolinx seems to be taking responsibility for the UPRL, and I can’t help wondering when SNC is just going to fade away. There is no contract, nor should there be. Continuing down that path is an immense waste of time, and condemns the service to being premium fare and restricted to whatever capital and operating investments SNC wants to make. As an integrated part of GO (which it should have been from the outset), it can have a fare that will make the service attractive.

    “Catenary based technologies” may rule out ICTS, but one never knows. The only other option on the horizon is the “hydrogen train”, and I will leave an exploration of the technical problems that would face (including the tank farm to fuel the trains) to Metrolinx.

    Page 12 0f 33 two thirds of the way down page

    …both FRA compliant and non compliant technologies…impact of dedicated tracks and/or Rights of Way and prospective rule changes. [This looks as though they will consider systems that are not required to meet FRA guidelines and current operating rules. Could they be looking into the possibility if throwing out the railways from their lines while they are operating?]

    Steve: That would be tricky given that the railways own most of the track, and retained running rights, I believe, over some of the lines GO purchased from them. The situation is likely more akin to the SRT where there is a physically separate right-of-way, but this has its own problems with sidings, etc. This probably applies only to options for the UPRL as it doesn’t really make sense for any other line.

    3.2.2 Environmental and Health impacts
    They have to use Pollution Probe’s Net Gain Principle and to examine all the human health impacts and their cost to the Ontario Health System. [I find this last point interesting. Are they trying to find a way to justify the high initial cosy of electrification or will they just pay lip service to these factors?]

    Steve: More to the point, they are not engaging in the fiction of looking at “diverted trips” and associated pollution reduction, and are taking into account the variation in effects depending on how close one is to the rail corridors. Saving pollution on the 401 doesn’t do someone in Parkdale any good.

    3.2.5 System Costs, Financing and Funding
    They have to study the impact of dedicated RoW on the total cost analysis. [Are they looking at corridors with out mainline rail service since they also have to study non FRA compliant technology? This could save a bundle on equipment and signalling costs.]

    They have to look at “Unique partnership opportunities” with different energy providers. [This could be a back door to some sort of PPP or it could be a way for GO to generate some of its own electricity and sell excess to the grid. If it is the latter then it could be useful.]

    I think GO, Sorry Metrolinx, wants to look at a non FRA compliant system to greatly reduce their operating and equipment cost. With a heavy rapid transit type of operation their euipment cost, infrastructure costs and possibly signalling costs would be greatly reduced. The length of blocks and minimum headways would also be reduced so that they could operate trains closer together. This would reduce the need for so many tracks and would also increse the capacity of Union Station if they can get the passengers off the platforms quickly enough. This might be cheaper than building 8 track corridors.

    GO already owns the Newmarket sub, the GO sub, the Uxbridge sub and the Weston sub. If they can negotiate or buy their own tracks on the remaining rights of way then they could isolate themselves from the mainline equipment and the need to be FRA compliant. The European train sets that run service similar to GO but which are not FRA compliant cost about one half as much as FRA compliant equipment. If this is what Metrolinx is actually going to look at then they may have finally got something right. We can only hope.

    Steve: If we are to believe Metrolinx projections, the combined demand from the northwest into Union exceeds the capacity of a full-blown subway line. Anything that is going to serve that corridor must be capable of scaling up substantially. I am beginning to wonder if we need a “relief line” for the rail corridor.


  3. “Tom West says:

    * page 14: “… the Lakeshore GO rail corridor and Toronto’s Bloor-Danforth subway being the only major east-west high-order transit options.”
    So the Milton line runs north-south now?”

    The Milton line stops at Union Station. I’d say any line that doesn’t even cross Yonge Street can’t be defined as east-west. It runs’s west, not east-west.

    I assume that east-west means the same line reaches both into the east, and the west. If the Milton and Lakeshore lines both ran every 10-minutes this might be a fine-point; but given how unusual and difficult it is to transfer quickly between these lines, I think the point is quite valid.

    Steve: This is a semantic quibble, and I hope that I won’t have to moderate dozens of comments on it. Both the Lakeshore and Milton services run in an east-west orientation when viewed west of Yonge Street. East of Yonge things get tricky because the lake is in the way and the 905 is “thinner” than to the west.

    There are more important things to talk about in this proposal.


  4. I don’t think GO/Metrolinx is contemplating ICTS or one of its offspring as its top speed, 80 to 100 km/h, is too low. Rather I think they want to do something like NJ transit or the Ottawa O-train were they run a non FRA compliant vehicle on mainline railway track were the regular equipment is forbidden access to the line while their equipment is on it. GO owns the Uxbridge and Newmarket Subs outright and the Weston Sub up to the Junction with the York Sub. The Uxbridge and Newmarket subs get, at most one local switcher on any day. If the switcher is kept off the line while GO is operating then there is no conflict.

    I realize that GO needs its own segregated Right of Way along the Kingston Sub to Scarborough and preferably Ajax. The Weston Sub, which they already own, takes them almost to Bramalea and it is possible to enter Bramalea Station with out actually going onto the York Sub. This also gets them to the airport without going on any track used by mainline trains while GO is operating. They would still need to operate the Milton and Bolton service mixed in with CP freights so those trains would need to be FRA compatible. If GO could get exclusive use of two tracks along the Dundas Sub, Kingston Sub and the York Sub where they operate then they could use non FRA compliant equipment. I believe that this, rather than ICTS, is their goal.

    There is one through freight each way and a local switcher on the line from Georgetown to Kitchener/Stratford. If GO can move those trains to the wee small hours of the morning then there is no conflict providing they can get exclusive tracks from Bramalea to Georgetown. There would be a problem going from Kennedy Rd. to the CP diamond in Brampton but I believe that this would be possible if no CN freights were allowed on the other track while a GO train was passing through. This is just a little over 1 mile so it should be possible. If they can separate their tracks from VIA’s and CN/CP through the Union Station Rail Corridor then this is a possibility.

    With the shorter blocks, real or virtual, that could be used if they did not need to accommodate 7000 foot freights, then GO could easily get the headways down to 4 minutes or 15 rains per track per hour. On eight tracks this gives a capacity of 8x15x1900 or 228 000 passenger per hour. This should be more than GO needs for the foreseeable future. The problem than becomes how to get them through Union Station and to their work place. The subways, Yonge and University, could take between 60 000 and 70 000 passengers per hour and a lot would walk to their final destination. Right now there are about 220 000 GO passengers per day through Union which means that its peak hour is about 30 000 to 35 000 passengers. I think that GO/Metrolinx realizes that it cannot get the number of trains that it needs through Union operating on existing mainline freight rules. They cannot afford FRA compatible equipment either as it almost doubles the cost.

    I think that somebody at GO/Metrolinx has finally realized that they do not want to operate a mainline commuter rail service but a high speed, high capacity inter regional rail service and the only way to do this is with a complete paradigm shift. I believe that they want a consultant to also come to this conclusion and to find ways to implement it. If you look at the number of tracks needed to run the required service following FRA rules then it cannot be done without huge costs for expropriating the property required to build the additional lines. GO/Metrolinx does not want ICTS but they desperately need a change in operating rules and for this they need a completely segregated Right of Way. By requiring the electric system to be operated off catenary they eliminate ICTS but still allow for the possibility of level crossing with roads and other rail services.

    Steve: I want to believe that your analysis is correct, but with memories of Bombardier and Metrolinx not so subtle attempts to foist ICTS on the Eglinton line as an “extension” of the SRT, I’m always a bit suspicious. If they would say specifically what they mean, this could clarify a lot of things. I saw that bit about catenary too, but the document could be read that this does not apply to the “alternate technologies”.


  5. With respect to Union Station, one cost, that of revising the train shed roof for overhead clearance, is included in work to be undertaken by GO in the near future as part of the Revitalization project.

    I would dare to venture into the possibility that electrification of the train shed is not the only issue if train movements are expected to almost quadruple. 14 tracks (or maybe 15 in the event the highline track is ceded… I’m not counting on it since Waterfront Toronto has indicated that the Toronto Harbourfront Commission trackage is to remain) isn’t going to fit everything in the peak hour.

    It would be reasonable to assume also that VIA rail would continue to have possession of tracks 8 and 9 as those are the tracks with access to baggage carousels. That leaves 12 tracks for GO, half of which would go to Lakeshore alone (they might be able to do it with 5 tracks, but that’s pretty aggressive).

    The cost of improving local transit is an important, but usually overlooked, part of Metrolinx projections.

    I can quote Leslie Woo (quite recently) that local transit improvements funding is to be part of the Investment Strategy, whenever it’s ready. Metrolinx needs to have more open debate on the Investment Strategy because they haven’t shown the work done from that department.

    Steve: Although the Investment Strategy is on next week’s Board agenda, it’s in private session along with a Customer Service strategy. More accurately, they are going to discuss “A draft approach to developing an investment strategy”. What have they been doing all these years?

    As for Union Station, the massive increase in trains will almost certainly be handled with a satellite station. There’s a catch-22 here, however. Any new station would likely be under (or possibly over) the existing right-of-way. This implies both grades and ventillation issues that could only be addressed with electrification. However, the lines most likely to be electrified are those with the most service, and this would push large volumes of passengers further away from the existing station, the subway and the PATH system. It will be interesting to watch GO/Metrolinx wrestle with that problem.


  6. The Rogers Center only costs 25$ million to purchase 😉 I think it would make a good satellite station … not much going on there these days anyways.


  7. How much would through-running at Union help with track/platform occupancy issues? (Either from one line to another, or to terminal platforms at Cherry Street GO)

    Steve: If both Richmond Hill and one of the west-side lines have “express rail” service as planned by GO, it would make sense to hook them up at Union. The challenge lies in the fact that there are fewer services to the east than to the west given the geography of the GTA. Another possible through-route would be Milton to North Pickering, but the service planned on the west side is much greater than on the east side.

    There is a proposal for a link from the CPR to the CN Bala sub, but it’s tricky. Also, if the Richmond Hill line veered west onto the CPR rather than continuing to Union, this would (a) limit the capacity available for North Pickering/Peterborough services and (b) eliminate the benefit of GO bleeding riders off of the Yonge Subway in the critical section at Bloor Station.


  8. “If lightweight and heavyweight equipment operates in the same corridor, the lightweight equipment (typically passenger cars) would not be able to withstand impacts from the heavier equipment.”My understanding was that the FRA has generally has prevented lightweight eqipment from operating on the same tracks as freight trains. (A freight train has more destructive potential than FRA passenger stock).

    Further, I really must take issue with your statement that European standards are “less stringent”. European rolling stock standards are typically based around being able to resist certain defined forces without some negative outcome occuring. (E.g., windows have to be able to resist a large weight dropped from a certain height without breaking). Manufacturers free to use any materials or construction methods that meet these requirements – the tests are output based.

    Steve: My comment was based on the general view in NA railway circles that European stock isn’t up to the same crashworthiness as things built to FRA standards. This may not be true (as per your comments), but getting the operating standards changed is a huge challenge.

    FRA rolling stock is based around certain construction requirements – the tests are input based. These requirements date from a time when manufacturing techniques were nowhere near as advanced as they are today. Example: UK Pendolino (tilting trains) carriages are made from one piece of extruded aluminium, with holes for windows and doors. This is strong because there are no joints to break in an accident, but making trains this way wasn’t possible 20 years ago.

    It amazed me that people seriously suggest that 50 year old (but still FRA compliant) rolling stock be used, rather than modern, safer, non-FRA compliant.

    It is worth remembering that Transport Canada goes along with FRA rolling stock rules by default. There is nothing to stop them switching to European style rules. I understand that TC would allow non-FRA stock providing the owner could prove it was as safe as FRA stock – but without saying how they should prove this. Personally, I think they should sponsor some research to find out what sort of crash forces FRA rolling stock can withstand, and then make those forces the requirement.

    Steve: To be clear, I am not specifically advocating FRA standards, but as long as GO equipment is going to co-exist with VIA passenger and CP/CN freight services, then those operators must be convinced that cohabiting with non-FRA equipment is acceptable. On a related note, although it would be possible to isolate the airport link, the same cannot be said of the rest of the network.

    Passenger forecasts… presumably some assumptions about line speeds went into these. What if GO decided there was buisness case for upgrading (say) the Lakeshore line to 160km/hr? Passenger numbers would increase, and that would affect whether electrifcation was worth it.

    Steve: However, there is no point in running at 160km/hr with stops on the spacing used by GO, let alone on anything closer that electrification might enable. The average speed used in the Metrolinx model was 80kmh at short headways, well below 10 minutes. The combination of almost no waiting time and high speed causes the model to assign many trips to the “express rail” links in the network.


  9. I find it odd that the FRA rules seem to force us to build our trains like tanks such that it’s the passengers themselves that absorb the energy of the stopping forces in a crash. Shouldn’t we be moving towards a crumple-zone system? I know there was a test of this in the US recently following some of the awful commuter train crashes there. Those proposed RDCs certainly aren’t going to give way in a collision. A change like that should allow the rest of the carbody to be constructed simpler and lighter. Are we waiting for the FRA to modernize before we do anything ourselves?

    Steve: This is a jurisdictional issue. Railway standards are a Federal matter, and an Ontario agency cannot arbitrarily change them. Whether this issue can get any traction in Ottawa, assuming Ontario asks, remains to be seen.


  10. Kristian says:
    October 16, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    “I find it odd that the FRA rules seem to force us to build our trains like tanks such that it’s the passengers themselves that absorb the energy of the stopping forces in a crash. Shouldn’t we be moving towards a crumple-zone system? I know there was a test of this in the US recently following some of the awful commuter train crashes there. Those proposed RDCs certainly aren’t going to give way in a collision. A change like that should allow the rest of the carbody to be constructed simpler and lighter. Are we waiting for the FRA to modernize before we do anything ourselves?”

    Part of the FRA, and Ottawa’s, concern is the problem when two types of equipment with different heights of platform are mixed. Most heavy rail cars have their couplers at the same height and a floor just above it. The couplers are connected by a heavy centre sill which absorbs and/or distributes any crash loading. The GO bi-levels, I believe, have two side sills to transfer the impact from one end to the other. If you put in a vehicle with a lower floor height then it has to be able to absorb the buff loads from a collision without endangering the passengers.

    Freight trains are now over 7000 feet long and since the brake application travels at most at only 500 feet per second, it takes 14 to 20 seconds for the rear of the train to start to slow down after a brake application is applied. At 60 mph this is about 1/3 to 1/2 half mile. European trains, freight and passenger, tend to be a lot shorter than their North American counter parts. It is for the above reasons that I believe GO is looking for a way to have a segregated line, either physically or temporally separate. That is the freights never operate on the line or at least never when the GO service is running.

    Without the need to worry about the freight, or VIA service, then GO could reduce their headways to 4 or 5 minutes or less and thereby have the capacity to get the necessary number of trains through Union Station. The problem then becomes to get them out of the station before the next train arrives. Whether you do this or build a satellite station you are still going to have a capacity problem on the subway but this is probably a lot cheaper as you would not need 8 tracks along the Weston Sub and 5 or 6 along the Lakeshore corridor. That is my $0.02 worth for the topic.

    Electric EMU’s have the ability to accelerate quickly and can provide a fast service without the need for a LOT of express service. You would still have some during the rush hours.


  11. “Mark Dowling says: How much would through-running at Union help with track/platform occupancy issues? (either from one line to another, or to terminal platforms at Cherry Street GO)”

    “Steve: If both Richmond Hill and one of the west-side lines have “express rail” service as planned by GO, it would make sense to hook them up at Union. The challenge lies in the fact that there are fewer services to the east than to the west given the geography of the GTA. Another possible through-route would be Milton to North Pickering, but the service planned on the west side is much greater than on the east side.”

    There is a much better solution available.

    Simply have an operator positioned at either end of the train.

    Current policy, it isn’t even an operating restriction, requires the 2-man operating crew to be both located at the head end a GO train.

    Normally to change ends on a GO train, after spotting the train the operator must ‘cut out’ the controls on this head end (front) of the train. This procedure takes 30 to 60 seconds. The operator then gets off the engine/cab car and walks all the way to the other end of the train. A 10 car/MP40 equipped consist is almost 920ft/0.17 miles long. A 12 car consist is almost 1070ft/0.21 miles long. It takes 3-4 minute to walk these distances. The other employee remains at the other end and manually applies a hand brake (this is to prevent the train from rolling when the brakes are completely released during the brake test) which takes 1-2 minutes itself.

    Once the 1st employee arrives at the other end, he must ‘cut in’ the controls, which takes 30-60 seconds (a 2nd hand brake may also be manually applied on this end which adds another 1-2 minutes to the process). A brake test (called a ‘#3 brake test’) must than be completed. The train brakes are applied and released. The employee at the tail end of the train must physically verify that this has happened on the last car (the cab car or the engine), this procedure takes about 1 minute. The employee at the tail end must then release the hand brake located in the engine compartment/cab car, add 30-60 seconds. Then he/she must walk the length of the train to the head end, which takes 3-4 minutes.

    Total time needed to changing ends e in this way: 8 to 12 minutes. (Though if rushed i.e running, or if company policy is broken, it can be done in about 6 minutes, but lets not get into that…)

    The better way of doing it is simply by having one operator at both ends.

    Once the train has be spotted. The operator on the head end ‘cuts out’ the controls, 30 to 60 seconds. A hand brake(s) will then be manually applied at one or both ends, 1-2 minutes. The operator on the other end then ‘cuts in’ the equipment, 30-60 seconds, and does the number 3 brake test, 1 minute. The hand brakes are release, 30-60 seconds. And the train is now ready to depart.

    Total time: 3 to 6 minutes.

    Even more time can be saved if an electric hand brake was installed on the equipment. First off the hand brakes are not located at the control stand. In the engine it’s located in the engine compartment, in the cab cars it’s located either next to the control stand, or on the other side of the car itself! The hand brake as is, must be ‘wratcheted on’. This requires anywhere between a dozen to 3 dozen cranks.

    Electric hand brakes, which are pretty much standard fare on most new engines, can be applied by the push of a bottom on the control stand and take only 10 seconds to apply or release! Amazingly enough the first batch of MP40 locomotives are not equipped with this feature. Apparently the issue at hand was that the overall weight of the MP40’s (289,000lb’s / 129 tons) is so close to the maximum weight restriction that CN had imposed on GO, that adding more features; such as a electric hand brake (which weighs 300lb’s), would have put the engine over the weight restriction. This is even more ridiculous when one considers that CN’s new 6 axle locomotives come in at an astounding 220 tons, which will run over much of the same trackage!

    With the use of an electric hand brake, total time: 2 to 3 minutes!

    Just enough time to get passengers on and off the equipment.

    This is how things should be done and all it would involve is a change in operational policy and the installation of and electric hand brake at both ends of a train. Hopefully GO has the foresight to implement it.

    To note: currently there is only one operator on the GO trains, the other crew member is not qualified to run the equipment as yet (this is due to the operations contract changing hands from CN to Bombardier). However in about 2 to 3 years’ time, both crew members will be qualified to operate the equipment.

    Operationally having only one person by himself at the front of the train is not a problem. CN itself had done this for years, having only one operator at the front of the train who operated in both ways. In this sense it may be a safety issue as fatigue can set in with only one individual operating back and forth. However this proposal involves only having the operators take turns and so the work load is split in half, easily manageable.

    This new ‘changing ends’ procedure within Union station would of course not need to be done on all trains, only those which don’t run on a complementary line east of Union.

    Steve: An alternative scheme would be to use drop-back crewing as the TTC does at some times on the subway where the crew on train “N” takes over train “N+1” or even “N+2” for its outbound trip. Don’t forget in this discussion that we are talking about future headways below 10 minutes. In any event, quick turnarounds will be required at the various terminals where the headway simply cannot be sustained with lengthy terminal procedures. For comparison, a subway crew can change ends almost instantly if they know what they’re doing.


  12. Ultimately I wonder if the solution is going to have to be a new cross region freight line. I understand that something along those lines turns up as a line somewhere in the MoT long range stuff, but no work has been done. It certainly could solve a lot of GO’s problems, especially since, as Drew points out, simply getting the European equipment won’t change the headway requirements freight puts on passenger operations.

    Steve: There are two big problems. First is that finding a corridor through all of the built-up 905 would be astoundingly difficult, and this corridor would have to be suitable for both CN and CP operations with which it would have to make reasonable connections. The railways won’t give up what they hav eeasily. Second, as GO’s network gets bigger and bigger, the area around which a “freight bypass” would travel keeps expanding. Remember when we thought GO meant a few trains between Oakville and Pickering? By analogy, we could produce lots of space for transit on existing streets if only we built a few superhighways to carry all of the auto traffic. It’s not quite that simple.

    As far as changing FRA goes, my impression is that there really isn’t a real world safety problem, but the issue doesn’t have a lot of political traction in itself and no congressman wants to be accused of “weakening standards” or some such, especially in the wake of the various Metrolink and rapid transit accidents. Add to that the FRA being mostly interested in freight railroads, who are at best concerned about liabilities from passengers and more realistically seem to be outright hostile to any non bulk freight use of their ROWs and nothing much seems likely to happen. Just look at how much trouble Austin is having, out of the blue, because the FRA seems to have decided that waivers have become too routine for their tastes. Frankly, the only hope I see in the near term is for Caltrain to get something to allow German EMUs with electrification, or Ontario getting something from the Feds that the US eventually decides to emulate.


  13. What are the chances that after this study is done at the end of next year, GO/Metrolinx realizes, hey we should be moving towards electrification and fast, and they’ll decide to electrify the Georgetown South Corridor before it’s meant to be completed for 2015? I know GO already admitted that the construction taking place for that corridor is already taking electrification into account for the future (high enough headroom for powerlines etc.). Just wondering…

    Steve: I suspect a lot of this will depend on the financial situation at Queen’s Park in a year or so, plus considerations going into the next election. Also, if Toronto does not get the Pan Am Games (we will know definitely in less than a month), then the artificial pressure around the UPRL will vanish.


  14. It was much easier to submit input to Metrolinx than for Transit City. The Transit City website didn’t have a forum for public input – and I don’t see anything on it now that it’s merged into the TTC website. The TTC’s history of public consultation is having the chairman call proposals ‘done deals’ before the consultation has even begun. Maybe Metrolinx doesn’t consult with a particular LRT advocate – but it seems to consult with the general public more than the TTC has or does.

    Steve: You seem to have forgotten that both the TTC and Metrolinx produced plans that more or less fell out of the sky.

    Some of the TC lines might be thought of as “a particular LRT advocate’s” work (although by the time I was actually asked, the map was pretty much finished, and fixups were something to be handled another day). Transit City was an upgraded version of the TTC’s proposed surface priority network taking a more aggressive stance with LRT upgrades rather than better bus services here and there.

    As for Metrolinx, they had no qualms about producing a map that totally ignored the role of local transit, something they are only now starting to deal with, and a staging plan that would have overwhelmed the TTC’s subway network.

    In both cases, any proposal has to go through a Transit EA. You may find the methodology gives only cursory opportunity for public input, but the same mechanism applies to both organizations.


  15. What the discussion re: FRA/EPA highlights is that for the most part one of the largest rail networks in the world has largely outsourced its standards and regulations to its neighbour. IRSI’s reuse of the Budd platform is convenient to the Feds because it means no need to rewrite regulations and it means a jobs program for New Brunswick.


  16. Robert Wightman said: “Freight trains are now over 7000 feet long and since the brake application travels at most at only 500 feet per second, it takes 14 to 20 seconds for the rear of the train to start to slow down after a brake application is applied”

    … which I personally find rather scary. The obvious solution is to have the brake “signal” transmitetd electrically rather than pnumatically. Two wires is all that would be needed, and every wagon would apply its brakes instantly.

    Steve: There is also the question of trains with inline motive power that are radio controlled. This allows brake applications to spread from points on the train other than the head end locomotive.


  17. Tom West says:
    October 22, 2009 at 2:54 pm

    Robert Wightman said: “Freight trains are now over 7000 feet long and since the brake application travels at most at only 500 feet per second, it takes 14 to 20 seconds for the rear of the train to start to slow down after a brake application is applied.”

    I believe that there is a study underway concerning the implementation of this and Positive Train Control. The problems with this are:

    1. Every car has to be equipped with it if it is going to work.

    2. How do you keep the signal fram denigrating as it passes down 7000 feet of train. Ohm’s laws says that the voltage of the signal will degrade until it is useless. The new FRED’s (Flashing Rear End Devices) have a small pneumatically powered generator to keep the voltage up in the on board radio. On newer units this device can also implement a break application.

    3. How do you get the signal to pass through the air hose connection or the coupler to get the signal to every car. It only takes one bad car to interrupt the signal. Or do you use radio propagation to get the signal from the locomotive to each car? If you do this then you have to make sure that each receiver knows the correct identity of its sender.

    Some streamlined passenger trains in the 50’s were equipped with electro-pneumatic brakes as they are called. Most rapid transit applications use regenerative brakes, electro-pneumatic brakes and then straight air brakes as a fail safe. The electro-pneumatic brakes are required to provide for a smooth transition from regenerative to friction braking. It will probably be at least 10, if not 15 years before ALL freight and passenger trains are equipped for electro-pneumatic brakes


  18. The GO electrification report of 2001 gives some interesting reading.
    The Hydro connection is a BIG issue. The earliest in service year for power supply facilities (Remember this is 2001) is assumed to be 2012 (11 year lead time). This assumes there are no environmental issues for the facilities required (Fat chance). Get this comment: “Impact on Pickering reliability/performance has to be reviewed”. The AVERAGE daily power requirement is equivalent to one quarter of a nuclear generator. We all know transit is not average and actually peaks at the same time as everything else (One extra nuclear generator required?).

    The conclusion I can see is that Metrolinx was being realistic about not mentioning the electrification study as applicable to the Georgetown corridor service since it wasn’t possible within the time frame.


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